Research shows that even low levels of lead in the blood may contribute to lowered intelligence later in life. There is no safe level of lead in our blood.

Children can be poisoned by lead, but not look or act sick. Because of this, lead poisoning may go unrecognized. A blood lead test is the only way to find out if a child has lead poisoning.

Talk to your doctor about lead testing. Not all providers routinely test children for lead, so you may need to ask them. Be prepared to explain your concerns. Be assertive when you ask for the test if your feel you child may be at risk.

    About the blood test

    Blood lead tests tell how much lead has been found in a child’s blood. This is called a blood lead level. It can tell if a child has been exposed to lead in the last 3-4 months.

    The test involves taking a small amount of blood from a child’s arm, finger or heel. There are 2 types:

    • Venous blood test - Blood is taken from an arm vein. The most reliable test.
    • Capillary (finger-prick) test - A screening test that’s less scary for a child.

    If a capillary test is at or above 3.5 µg/dL, it should be checked right away with a venous blood lead test (preferred) or a second capillary test.

    If your child’s blood level is elevated, it’s important to take action right way to avoid permanent health problems.

    We can help you understand any test results.

    Understanding your child's lead test

    When you get the test results, make sure the provider tells you specifically what the test value is (instead of “normal” or “abnormal”). Any lead in the blood should be taken seriously.

    Less than 3.5 µg/dL: No medical management needed.

    A confirmed result at or above 3.5 µg/dL is considered elevated and eligible for free assistance and follow-up from the Health Department. Contact the Leadline for a free home assessment. Our trained lead risk assessor will help you identify and remove possible lead hazards.

    Learn more about the CDC's blood lead reference values»

    What if my child has elevated lead?

    In most cases the treatment for elevated lead includes:

    • Professional help to find and remove lead hazards from a child’s environment
    • Removing children from the source of lead exposure
    • Using good nutrition to help protect the child’s body from lead
    • Monitoring the child’s blood lead level over time to make sure the level decreases

    Take steps to identify and remove possible sources of lead in your child’s environment to prevent further exposure. We can help! Contact the Leadline at 503-988-4000 to arrange for a free home assessment by a trained lead risk assessor.

    Give your children healthy, low-fat foods that are high in calcium, iron and vitamin C, all of which have been shown to reduce lead absorption in children. Poor nutrition, especially calcium and iron deficiency, is associated with increased lead absorption, retention and toxicity.

    Test your child again in 3 months to see if the level has has lowered.

    About Chelation therapy

    Chelation is a specialized treatment for children with extremely high blood-lead levels (at or above 45 µg/dL). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends chelation therapy only be undertaken under careful medical supervision in a facility that can provide appropriate intensive care services.

    This procedure is not without risks. It's important to discuss these risks with your health care provider.

    Other tests and treatments

    Hair or Urine testing: Some alternative health care providers may suggest testing for lead in your child’s hair or urine. These methods have not been shown to be as reliable as a blood lead test.

    Herbal Chelation: There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence supporting the use of "herbal chelation" to lower an elevated blood lead level. It is important to discuss alternative therapies, including the use of herbal supplements, with your health care provider.

    Questions? Call the Leadline


    Lead prevention information and referral. Spanish-speaking staff and interpreters in other languages available.